US has highest gun-related deaths in the world
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US investigators worked feverishly through the day Tuesday to find out why a retired accountant gunned down at least 59 people and wounded over 500 others at an open-air concert in Las Vegas. The incident is now listed as the single worst shooting in modern US history. But it doesn’t stand alone.
In the US this year alone, there have been 46,695 shooting incidents, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a non-profit corporation that counts gun-related incidents. More than 11,000 of them have been fatal.
One reason for this, specialists say, is that the US has the highest per capita gun ownership rate in the world. The latest statistics published by the Congressional Research Service in 2014 show a total of 294 million weapons: 106 million handguns, 105 million rifles and 83 million shotguns.
Gun ownership is embedded in the US constitution. The Second Amendment reads: “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
At the time, the amendment helped separatists who wanted to break away from British colonial rule to be "free from government tyranny."
This one sentence was adopted in 1791 as part of the Bill of Rights, which comprises the first ten amendments to the US constitution, and may be indirectly responsible for the unnecessary deaths of thousands in modern days.
All-powerful gun lobby
But any discussion trying to attack the amendment is doomed to fail. The National Rifle Association (NRA), a powerful lobby group, has the support of many powerful politicians in Washington DC, including President Donald Trump.
Last year the NRA officially endorsed Trump, who is, together with his two sons, an NRA member.
“Hillary Clinton wants to abolish the Second Amendment,” Trump said during his speech at the NRA in April 2016. “I’m not going to let that happen... we’re going to preserve it, we’re going to cherish it, and we’re going to take care of it.”
After Sunday’s Las Vegas shooting, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that “now was not the time for politics.” Trump largely avoided the topic, saying that “we’ll be talking about gun laws as time goes on.”
Gun laws around the world
However, countries and regions that do apply strict gun control laws tend to have lower gun-related deaths.
Australia applied stringent anti-gun laws in 1996, banning, among other things, sales of all semi-automatic rifles and all semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns. The country saw the number of gun-related deaths decrease by 47 percent.
In Japan, where posession of any firearm by civilians is outright forbidden, there were only 6 gun-related deaths in 2014, according to global research into gun ownership and gun-related incidents by the University of Sydney.
And on 17 May, the European Council issued strict amendments to its Directive on Control of the Acquisition and Possession of Weapons.
But Pierre-Maxime Sarron, a French pro-gun ownership lobbyist and director of the Institut Mirabeau, is not happy with the rules.
He says that “the arms directive was issued in France after [the] Bataclan," Bataclan being the name of the Paris concert venue that was attacked by Islamist terrorists in 2015. The Paris attacks left 130 dead.
“They took direct aim at legal gun owners, meaning collectors, hunters, and sport shooters.
“But the European Council should have concentrated on the real culprits, meaning international arms smugglers, notably from the Balkans. And that was not done. So they shouldn’t have focused on the legal owners, but on the illegal ones.”
Gun owners agree that the regulations in Europe are too strict. “Irritating, slightly frustrating,” comments Andrew Mercer, CEO of the National Rifle Association UK, which has no connection to the NRA in the US.
These regulations don't improve public safety, according to Mercer. He says that targeting "legal gun ownership, and people who own rifles and shotguns and firearms legally," is "missing the point."
“All the energy should be targeted on combating people who have illegal weapons, who use illegally held firearms for criminal or evil intent," he says.
But others think the less guns available the better, and that those available must be strictly regulated.
“The gun situation in the United States is beyond control,” says Unni Nicolayson, honorary president of the European Shooting Confederation.
“We had a similar [thing] in Norway a couple of years ago,” she says, pointing at the actions by extreme right-wing activist Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people in 2011.
“And it might happen everywhere, but I think it is not getting better by having weapons all around.
“And I think this is some part of the reason. That it is so easy to get guns in the US, it is absolutely unacceptable,” she says.